As always, welcome back to the Thursday edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. We’re here for the next hour to answer anything on your mind. As a quick heads up, Dave and I do a Monday live stream over on Youtube with the same Q&A format. Here’s a link to the channel and last video we did.
Anyway, to your questions!
WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex…hope all is well. IYO, what’s the primary area the Steelers need to address before start of the season to narrow the gap between us and the AFC’s top teams (Chiefs, Ravens).
Alex: Doing well! Hope the same to you and yours. It’s hard to address needs in a significant way at this point. Even the areas I’d like to upgrade, like backup safety, offer you generally only so many moves. No great talent will be available and sometimes you trade for the next JJ Wilcox.
I think this team just needs to gain clarity at key spots. Quarterback, of course, checking the final boxes on Ben’s rehab. Nothing matters if he’s not the same ‘ol #7. And clarity at nose tackle, which I’ve talked about endlessly, figuring out whose the starter, is there a rotation, if so, how does that look. You have to stop the run to compete in the AFC North. No arguing that.
And finally, clarity along the o-line. Will an Okorafor/Banner take hold of the RT job? Line looks different if that answer is yes or no. So just some internal questions the team has to figure out over the next ten weeks.
Who is your pick for 2020 Draft Choice making the most
Alex: It probably will come down to special teams or wherever there’s an injury that opens a door. On paper to start the year, it’s unlikely anyone – even Claypool – makes a significant impact on their side of the ball.
I think McFarland could provide enough big plays in the return and run/short pass game to draw headlines early. Running back is also going to be the easiest position to transition to in a difficult offseason, which gives him a leg up. But I think most of their picks – Claypool, Highsmith, McFarland, Brooks Jr, can all impact on special teams pretty much out of the gate.
Brian Tollini: T or F. With our current roster, it would be harder to make the playoffs if we lost Minkah for a stretch of 6 games than Ben.
Alex: Nah, that’s false. It would be a huge blow to lose Minkah but he’s not your Hall of Fame quarterback. Ben is the last guy you want to lose. That’s how most teams with a franchise QB operate. Pittsburgh is no exception.
Christopher Poknis: Hey Alex! Loving the old impact plays videos on the Depot. Forgot how impactful Kordell Stewart was at times. Do you think he was an athlete playing in the wrong era? Could he be a star with a long career in today’s NFL? Wish his time in Pittsburgh would of panned out better.
Alex: Thanks, Dave is doing a great job with the series! Yeah, I think had he played in today’s era, you’d see a different QB. Offenses that would be more friendly to his skillset, better minimizing his weaknesses, and just building around his talent. I don’t know if it would make him a Lamar Jackson type of star but I don’t think you would’ve gotten as much of the roller coaster ride as you did with him because the offense would be tailored to what suited him best. We’ll never know, unfortunately.
PghDSF: So there talk about only having 2 pre-season games. As a season ticket holder, I don’t see it as something that people will go to. I’m just wasting my money. Do you even think it’s worth it to have any games?
Alex: For sure, it’s worth it. Players need games. You don’t want to go 0 to 100 from no offseason, to a little bit of camp, straight into regular season. Guys aren’t conditioned enough, more prone to soft tissue injuries (we’ll be talking about that on the podcast tomorrow with Dr. Mel!) and the young/new guys need this time. If the preseason gets shortened, that’s another lost opportunity for fringe players to stick. And that sucks. But yeah, you gotta have some form of preseason.
Will fans even be allowed to attend? They weren’t huge turnouts to begin with. The NFL could mandate no fans for preseason, 50% capacity for the regular season. So I understand you not going/not wanting to go, heck, I probably wouldn’t either in your shoes, but they need to happen.
I do wonder about the Hall of Fame game though. There have been a lot of issues with it.
2011 – Cancelled due to CBA lockout
2015 – Poor field conditions, Sushi blows out his knee
2016 – Cancelled due to poor field conditions
2020 – Possibly cancelled due to coronavirus
Over the past decade, it’s being cancelled about as often as it’s being played. Might be time to just scrap the idea altogether and just have the ceremony.
Michael James: Hey Alex, you have to plan for the future after Ben (so probably after 2021).
What are your priorities in contract extensions, draft etc.?
Alex: As I’ve written about, this is a big year for Rudolph. Time to sink or swim. Without noticeable improvement, it’s time to find another future heir. Which could mean drafting someone as soon as 2021. Definitely by 2022.
Beyond that, it’s sorta business as usual, with or without Ben. Heyward is getting an extension. Ditto Watt, probably next summer. JuJu the tag assuming he bounces back. You’ll eventually look to lock up Fitzpatrick. I don’t think the calculation at other spots shift a whole lot, at least until when you know Ben is off the books and all that cap space frees up. But you’re still building through the draft, making low-risk FA decisions, and locking up your quality homegrown talent. Been that way forever.